Work on the Mistra Heights project commenced on Monday (yesterday), as heavy machinery moved into the site of the former Mistra Village in Xemxija amidst uproar from residents in view of a pending case in front of the Court of Appeal.
The project proposal as it currently stands envisions a residential development of 744 apartments, 1,800sqm of retail space, 1,000sqm of restaurants and a car park for 1,600 cars, over an area the size of 19 football pitches.
The project has been in the works since 2008, but there has been little if any progress since, with squatters and homeless persons sometimes taking shelter in its crumbling buildings.
The sight of heavy machinery shocked many neighbours and nearby residents, who expressed their concern that they now face years of excavations and construction.
Independent political candidate Arnold Cassola first broke the news, uqestioning what is happening at the old Mistra Village.
The concern was shared by PN MP for the district Ivan Castillo, who asked: “When are we going to start to consider the impact on the community of such developments?”
“We talk a lot about quality of life… but they seem to be empty words used in empty speeches,” he said.
Mr Castillo added that he would be bringing up the issue In Parliament: “The residents of Xemxija will have their voices heard!”
In 2019, then-Finance Minister reportedly succumbed to pressure to include the site in a list of Special Designated Areas where foreigners are exempt from a law limiting their property acquisition in Malta to one residence.
The move was made in view of reported interest by a sheikh, a member of Dubai’s ruling family.
The site has been owned for a number of years by Gemxija Crown Ltd, originally a joint venture between JPM, a local development company, and Kuwaiti investors.
JPM, owned by the same Montebello brothers behind the A3 Tower in Paola, and who had taken over the former Jerma site in Marsaskala, has been in financial difficulty for years.
In both the Mistra and Jerma sites, recent Planning Authority filings have been made under the name of Charles Camilleri ‘Tal-Franċiż’, a relative of Anton Camilleri, going by the same nickname. Anton Camilleri also recently made headlines for his tower proposal in St Julian’s, overlooking St George’s Bay.
The Malta Business Registry currently lists Charles Camilleri as the sole shareholder in Gemxija Crown Ltd, although the workers currently on site reportedly come from JPM.
Attempts to contact Mr Camilleri proved unsuccessful.
Public records show that the project laid dormant until May 2022. Since then, there have been several method-of-work statements filed by the project’s architect, Perit Edwin Mintoff, including a December 20022 declaration that excavation would soon commence.
On 13th March 2023, the Building and Construction Authority submitted its formal acceptance of the commencement of works, opening the way for works to begin.
The project has been stuck in limbo for years. An outline permit was first issued in 2008, followed by full development permission in 2013. In 2019, this permit was renewed, leading to appeals in front of the Environment and Planning Tribunal by the St Paul’s Bay Local Council and a group of residents, the latter of which also launched a crowdfunding campaign to cover legal and professional fees.
The appellants raised a number of concerns, largely related to the height and size of the proposed development. They pointed out that Malta’s high-rise policy specifically states that there should be no such developments on ridges due to their significant visual impact. However, Mistra Heights is in fact located on a ridge, and is expected to dominate the visual landscape should it go ahead.
Other questions were raised about the lack of re-assessment of the project in view with updates to planning policies.
The environment and planning officer at the Ombudsman’s office, Perit David Pace, also concluded that the Authority was wrong to issue both the outline permit in 2008 and the full development permit in 2013.
However, the council’s appeal was eventually seemingly abandoned, with records showing that its representatives failed to turn up to successive sittings, while the residents’ appeal was rejected by the Tribunal, leading them to file a case in front of the Court of Appeal – the final arbiter on planning issues in Malta.
The final judgement from the court is expected on 10th May.
Heavy machinery on the site / Ivan Castillo
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The appeal was filed by several NGOs, local councils and residents after raising around €20,000 from the public